In Which I Decide to Drop My Disdain


I have just enough choleric in my personality (some might call it Type A—I can never get all those personality things straight—which proves I have a lot of sanguine in me, too) that when I started working with Navajo students the whole concept of family relationships really bothered me. I decided that their names for familial relationship was as messed up as their word for shorts (they call them ‘short cuts’—which makes sense in a weird way, but doesn’t precisely describe the nature of shorts).

The kids use the word ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ very loosely. A brother could actually be a cousin-brother or an uncle-brother. They often leave off the first part, so I’m left wondering how someone with a different last name and a completely different set of parents can actually be the ‘brother’ of the student I’m talking to.

I confess, the more I got to know my students, the more I resisted their use of these unfamiliar terms. I don’t like the off-balance feeling of thinking I know my students only to discover after five months that he or she has a plethora of ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ at school that I didn’t know about. I’m weird that way. I like things neatly catalogued and categorized so that I have the proper response on the tip of my tongue (which proves that I have a strong dose of melancholy in my personality as well).

As happens all to often, a student received word early this week that a relative had passed away. On Wednesday, I discovered that the young lady I mentor is related to the deceased as well. This morning, whilst walking laps around commons supervising students after breakfast, I noticed a different young lady walking with her head down. I realized that she too is part of the family of the deceased.

I started to shake my head with my usual disbelief that someone could be so distraught over the death of someone they didn’t know very well that wasn’t technically a close blood relative. And then the Holy Spirit convicted me. It didn’t matter how close the relationship might have been. What matters is that one of the family members was hurting.

Who cares about the true nature of the relationship (I think he was the cousin-brother of a cousin-brother)? Grief is grief and I don’t need to know the relational details in order to offer a word of condolence and a prayer.

Grief is grief and we're all part of the family. When someone in the family hurts, we should all hurt with them. Click To Tweet

So I decided to drop my disdain for a concept I don’t understand and cling to what I know. Family is family—and we’re all part of God’s family. When any one of us hurts, it hurts all of us and that pain gives us an opportunity to come alongside a family member and minister to them.

What about you?  Have you ever struggled to understand a different culture?